In the battle for new business, there is nothing more impressive than a winning ad agency.

victory winning agency

There is nothing like the thrill of victory.

Over the years, we’ve worked hard to identify the winning characteristics that winning agencies emphasize. Great leadership, killer creative, outstanding strategic thinking, and innovative ideas all contribute. But in the world of the highly-competitive, high-stress, agency pitch (account in review) there’s one factor that really seems to be a key factor in their success. Those winning agencies qualify their prospects better. Very simply, winning agencies do a better job at selecting whether to enter a pitch or just walk away. They focus their new business efforts on winning the easy ones and not wasting time on long odds. They only go after accounts where they have a greater than average chance of winning. Contrast this with the attitude of so many other agency leaders. They get fixated on the idea that they can win anything: any brand, any client, any category. They dig in and keep working on long-odd pitches where they have little chance of success. They work long hours on a pitch where they have no expertise, no experience, and no hope. They take their eye off the long-term new business system –filling their pipeline (filled with prospects that would be a slam dunk).

When evaluating your chances at winning any given pitch, there only one thing that really matters:

You have a relationship with the prospect: We live in a high-touch, high-cost new business world. Any decision made by prospects will more than likely go to someone they know and trust. If this is the first time you’ve heard of this prospect or don’t know anyone there, perhaps it’s time to walk away.

UNLESS…

You are a proven expert: Your agency has a long track record of solving problems in this prospect’s industry. Or you have a long history of solving their key issue. If you’re not a world class leader in something related to this brand or problem, walk away. There is little chance of winning and you will end up sounding like every other marketing firm out there. Just walk away.

UNLESS…

You can redefine the problem: This is a long shot, but we have seen it work – go in with something totally unexpected. Stand out. Zig when everyone zags. Remember the long game – set them up to win down the road. While you may not be able to win this round, if you lay the ground work, establish some good relationships and stay in touch, in a couple of years you’ll have a new client. And you never know, you just may do a good enough job to win with something totally unexpected. Long odds, go big or go home. Still, it’s better to focus on easy wins.

As an example, one agency asked for our help on a tough pitch. After chatting with them we decided there was no chance of winning. We advised they go for the long game. We worked with the agency and focused their pitch on one key brand in the client’s portfolio. A weak brand that was in trouble. And was holding the other products back, wasting resources.

The prospect gave the agency 90 minutes for the presentation, we worked to cut it down to 45 minutes. The agency didn’t present anything about themselves. Didn’t address the prospect’s broader issues, marketing efforts or branding, or anything they wanted to talk about. We just presented a strategic landscape, research and some findings that led to only one recommendation – the prospect needed to kill off this one brand and focus their energy on the remaining ones. With the additional resources behind the other brands, the resulting sales would more than cover the loss of that one brand.

The presentation was met with stunned silence. And of course the little agency didn’t win. We didn’t expect them to. But the agency did go on to pick up several good projects over the next year to do some more research – the CEO loved hearing the truth it seems.

Over time, this prospect became that agency’s largest account. And eventually that one loser brand did go away, and the other brands thrived.

Prospects have many things on their plate and not much time.

Prospects don’t want to 1) get to know someone new, or 2) spend time educating someone on their industry. Don’t try to overcome those major obstacles. Winning agencies keep winning because they ruthlessly refuse to waste time on bad leads. How much more effective would your new business efforts be if you removed all those losing pitches from the equation?
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Bob Sanders

President at Sanders Consulting Group
Our only focus is helping creative organizations develop new directions for growth and operational excellence. We do no work for clients. We're on your side.